Skip to content

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at AC Milan 2, Barcelona 0

Feb 20, 2013, 5:28 PM EDT

AC Milan's Muntari celebrates with teammates after scoring against Barcelona during their Champions League soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan Reuters

If you think today’s result will just be a one-off, your memory’s short. This is how Chelsea did it last year. This is how Manchester United did it in 2008 and how Chelsea nearly derailed them a year later. This is how Barcelona goes out, but unlike recent years that saw opponents get a goal and hold out, Milan got two. And now one of the tournament favorites is on the brink of leaving UEFA Champions League before they’ve even managed to threaten their opponent’s goal.

That’s how surprisingly lopsided today’s match was, though that imbalance won’t be reflected in the possession stat. At 73 percent, Barcelona held even more of the ball than they’re used to. Yet paradoxically, their attack was far more feeble, only putting one shot on Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Barça never showed the will or ability to solve what’s becoming a surprisingly reliable formula.

That formula: Defend. It’s not complicated. Just keep defending to the extreme and wait for your chances, no matter how long it takes. If you stay focused, camp behind the ball, and force Barcelona to move through you, they can be beat. All you need is one moment – one good bounce, one swift movement – and you can derail one of the best teams in the world.

“The result is definitely unexpected,” Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo conceded after his team’s 2-0 victory. “We faced the best team in the world.”

Milan’s first moment came in the 57th minute, the first real chance of a game that had been chance-less. Off a restart near the edge of their attacking third, Milan let midfielder  Montolivo try from distance. His shot from 30 yards out hit a Barcelona player, went off the hand of Cristian Zapata, and fell for Kevin Prince-Boateng. The Milan attacker turned on his left foot and fired with his right from just inside the box, the bang-bang action leaving Victor Valdés flat-footed as the game’s winning goal flexed the right side of his net.

It was a stroke of bad luck for the Catalans, but sauntering through their road leg with the intensity of camel, Barça was ripe to be caught. It nearly happened in the 11th minute, when Milan broke with numbers after a corner kick. It almost happened in the 16th minute, when a poor touch from Stephan El Shaarawy is all that prevented a point-blank chance on goal. Thanks to long passes from Montolivo and the constant threat of El Shaarawy getting behind right back Dani Alves, Milan was always one movement away from taking the lead.

“We couldn’t create chances, Milan was well-organized,” Alves said before conceding, “We could have competed a bit better.”

Lightning stuck for a second time in the 80th minute when a ball chipped forward M’Baye Niang allowed the French teenager to find El Shaarawy in the box. The young Italian lifted a ball over the right side of Barça’s defense for an oncoming Sulley Muntari, whose finish back across goal put Barcelona on the edge of elimination.

“It was the most important goal of my career,” Muntari said afterward.

No doubt Barcelona controlled the match, but their command was passive, their assured but serene possession playing into Milan’s hands. With three compact midfielders, wingers tracking deep, and a defensive so far back they rarely had to worry about anything behind them, the Rossoneri willing ceded a control that never mattered. They may have only held 27 percent possession, but putting three shots on goal to Barcelona’s one, Milan were the more dangerous side.

“This is a very negative result,” Iniesta said after the match. “When you don’t show up for the game, this can happen.”

With their 2-0 victory, Milan proved more than opportunistic. They were the better side, one that leaves Barcelona needing two goals to have a chance of survival. But even before worry about converting chances, Barça needs to figure out who to create some.

source:  Man of the Match: Montolivo and El Shaarawy were key to how Milan set up, but Kevin Prince Boateng’s finish is what set Milan on their way. Not everybody would have gotten that shot on goal, let alone hit a ball so well that the opposition keeper was left flat-footed. Reflexively shooting as he turned on the ball, Prince allowed Milan to reap the rewards of an extreme but highly successful approach.

And the former Ghanian international did his part on the other end, too, coming back from his right wing position to set up in the area normally patrolled by Andrés Iniesta. The Barça star had a quiet day, and although it was unclear Boateng was the cause of that, his positioning and willingness certainly helped, particularly when he was called on to track Jordi Alba’s runs (as he memorably did to win a ball behind Milan’s line in the 43rd minute).

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Allegri, Milan have come a long way – In the wake of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Thiago Silva sale, Milan got off to a terrible start to the season. They fell to the bottom half of the Serie A table while struggling to get through their Champions League group.

Now the team sits third and have a path into the Champions League quarterfinals. What happened?

Massimiliano Allegri was given time to figure his new team out, something that didn’t look certain to happen as the Rossoneri stumbled out of the gate. But slowly Allegri determined El Shaarawy was capable of carrying the scoring burden. He incorporated Montolivo, tweaked Prince’s role, and forged a viable central defense from Philippe Mexes, Cristian Zapata, and Mario Yepes.

Along the way, he moved away from Alexandre Pato. Robinho is no longer a major part of this team. Antonio Nocerino, a find last season, isn’t a vital cog in midfield.

Six months after fans were calling for his ouster, Allegri took apart Barcelona. That’s how far his team has come.

source: Getty ImagesWhere did Lionel Messi go? – The best player in the world was a complete non-factor. Milan was tight and compact through the middle, giving Messi no space to work, but even when the Balon d’Or winner started going wide right in an attempt to find room to work, he failed to have an impact on the game. Aside from a 29th  flash when he beat left back Kevin Constant, Messi might as well have been on the sidelines.

For only the second time this season, Messi was held without a shot on goal.

It’s not like Barcelona’s other stars were much better. Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta played a bigger part in the game, but that’s to be expected. Milan wasn’t crowding the areas were they operate. Cesc Fábregas and Pedro Rodríguez? Their names were rarely called.

Messi, however, usually finds a way to break through. Even when he’s off, he’s capable of finding a moment of brilliance. Tonight, he wasn’t even close.

A portable approach – Milan’s tactics weren’t complicated. They weren’t dependent on anything specific to the San Siro, and as we’ve seen in recent years, other teams have been able to execute this approach on the road. There’s no reason why Milan can’t replicate this performance in Spain. Carrying two goals out of the San Siro, they even have license to be more extreme.

Barcelona may be able to break through in Spain, but odds are they’ll lose if they don’t change things up. They know their recent history. They know they need a Plan B. They can’t just assume dogma will win out.

The question is whether they can change. Do they have enough diversity of talent within the team to make the necessary changes? Is there even enough familiarity with a different approach to make those tweaks viable? Is there the will to try?

Barcelona’s in big trouble, and their problems transcend the score. They’re not a team well equipped to address this kind of challenge. They may be left with no recourse but to play their normal style and hope this time it wins out.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Victor Valdés actually had a good day, particularly in the first half where a couple of aggressive reads helped him snuff out changes before they developed. But there was little he could have done to prevent either goal.
  • The matchup between El Shaarawy and Alves was a particularly interesting one, with the young Italian tasked with tracking the Barcelona wingback. Early, it became evident Milan was going to try and exploit Alves’s want to push forward, with Montolivo constantly firing diagonals behind the Barça right back. Though the matchup never really bore fruit, it still helped define how Milan set up.
  • Mario Balotelli is cup-tied, having appeared in the competition with Manchester City. He was seen celebrating on the sidelines during the match’s final moments.
  • Looking at Barcelona’s bench, it’s unclear how they could have significantly changed their team. Alexis Sanchez came on, and Javier Mascherano eventually replaced a cut Carles Puyol, but the rest of the team represents a series of more-or-less like-for-like options: Alexander Song, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya, and Thiago Alcantera.

Stay with us throughout Wednesday as we take a look at the day’s other match, Turkish champions Galatasaray hosting Germans Schalke 04.

Latest Posts
  1. USMNT player ratings: How Klinsmann’s men fared against Peru

    Sep 4, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT

    Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood AP

    The United States put in a pretty good team performance tonight, but questions still remain at center-back.

  2. Three things we learned from USMNT’s comeback win vs. Peru

    Sep 4, 2015, 9:55 PM EDT

    Brad Guzan, Renato Tapia, Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream Brad Guzan, Renato Tapia, Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream

    A superb second half comeback from Klinsmann’s boys has exonerated some of the Gold Cup demons.

  3. USMNT 2-1 Peru: Altidore double leads USA to come-from-behind win

    Sep 4, 2015, 9:37 PM EDT

    US Men's National Team vs Germany Getty Images

    Jozy Altidore was handed the captain’s armband tonight, and his two goals were the difference in Washington D.C.

  4. VIDEO: Peru take early lead. Is USMNT’s Omar Gonzalez to blame?

    Sep 4, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT

    Brad Guzan Brad Guzan

    U.S. trailed 1-0 at the break after this goal from Chavez via Gonzalez’s back.

  5. Reports: Pogba turned down Chelsea move despite offer of $275,000 per week

    Sep 4, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    Juventus v S.S. Lazio - 2015 Italian Super Cup Getty Images

    Paul Pogba was wanted by every club in the world this summer, but even some pretty massive wages couldn’t bring him to leave Juventus.

  6. FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Peru in important tune-up match (Lineups)

    Sep 4, 2015, 7:02 PM EDT

    Panama v United States Getty Images

    Tonight’s match may be a friendly, but it’s way more than that for Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States.

  7. Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayor fails to report for international duty with Togo

    Sep 4, 2015, 5:57 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-FA CUP-TOTTENHAM-LEICESTER Getty Images

    After being essentially cut from Tottenham, Adebayor was a no-show for his national team.

  8. EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Germany downs Poland, Keane sets records for Ireland

    Sep 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwixmde5zjc2mta3nmi0yta0zmmwngnmothlmmzhntnh AP

    Mario Gotze’s brace led Germany to a big win at home, while Robbie Keane became the all-time leading goalscorer in EURO qualifying history.

  9. Manchester United calls Real Madrid’s handling of De Gea transfer “clumsy”

    Sep 4, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwnjytliymewnjuzzwnjogm3mjrmytc1nzawmja3ytu3 AP

    The transfer window may have closed, but the war of words between Manchester United and Real Madrid is still going strong.

  10. Bournemouth’s record-signing Tyrone Mings ruled out for rest of season with knee injury

    Sep 4, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT

    Bournemouth v Philadelphia Union Getty Images

    A massive loss for the Cherries as Tyrone Mings’ season is over after tearing his ACL and MCL against Leicester City.

  11. WATCH: On Japan duty, Shinji Kagawa flubs a sitter of the most comfortable variety

    Sep 4, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT

    Cambodia's goalkeeper Sou Yaty falls on the ground upon getting a goal by Japan's Shinji Kagawa (10), top second right, as Japan's Yoshinori Muto (14), Cambodia's Say Piseth (4) and others look back during their second round soccer match of regional qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Saitama, north of Tokyo Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Japan defeated Cambodia 3-0 to secure its first win of World Cup qualifying. (Tsuyoshi Ueda/Kyodo News via AP) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT AP

    We need a bigger term than sitter for this Japan miss. Sofa? Futon? Beanbag chair?

  12. With two friendlies before the Confederations Cup playoff, who should be the USMNT’s center back pair?

    Sep 4, 2015, 1:09 PM EDT

    FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2013 file photo, the United States national soccer team poses prior to the start their friendly soccer match between Austria and the United States in Vienna, Austria. Background from left: Omar Gonzalez, Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley and Brek Shea. Foreground from left: Jermaine Jones, DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson and Jozy Altidore.  (AP Photo/Hans Punz, File) AP

    The USMNT’s Tinkerman takes a lot of risks with his formation and use of his best players (See: Bradley, Michael), but there is at least one area where we just don’t get it: center backs.

  13. PHOTO: Can this cigarette disposal unit end the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate (at least in London)?

    Sep 4, 2015, 11:24 AM EDT

    CNaarYiWoAAxXqT

    Who knew we could’ve settled this whole thing ages ago, just by asking smokers in England?

  14. CONCACAF World Cup qualifying preview: Canada, Jamaica hope to avoid upsets; USMNT to learn group mates

    Sep 4, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT

    HOUSTON, TX - JULY 11:  Cyle Larin #21 of Canada avoids pressure from Jermaine Taylor #21 of Jamaica and Je-Vaughan Watson #15 at BBVA Compass Stadium on July 11, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Yanks will face the winners of two two-legged ties: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Aruba, and Antigua and Barbuda vs. Guatemala.

  15. WATCH: New Spurs forward Son’s hat trick helps South Korea let loose on Laos

    Sep 4, 2015, 9:49 AM EDT

    South Korea's Son Heung-min, right, scores his first goal as Laos's Pinkeo Khamla tries to block it during their Asian zone Group G qualifying soccer match for the 2018 World Cup at  Hwaseong Sports Complex Main Stadium in Hwaseong, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. South Korea won 8-0.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) AP

    Son scored in the 12th, 74th and 89th minutes of South Korea’s 8-0 win over Laos in AFC World Cup qualifying on Thursday.

  16. MLS preview: Sounders vs. Toronto FC, Crew SC vs. FC Dallas headline Week 27

    Sep 4, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders FC Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders FC

    Week 27 is upon, and though international call-ups have decimated a number of teams, this weekend’s MLS action should still be decent.

  17. Real Madrid’s Perez says De Gea move failed because Manchester United lacks transfer “experience”

    Sep 4, 2015, 8:22 AM EDT

    MADRID, SPAIN - JUNE 09:  Real Madrid President Florentino Perez gives as speech as he attends the 7th edition of the 'Catedra Real Madrid' Project at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on June 9, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Perez says a move that should’ve taken an hour “took eight”, and blasted the Red Devils’ chairman by using examples from 2013.

  18. Providence and its big American striker Mac Steeves are off to a red-hot start (video)

    Sep 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    PC Men's soccer versus Monmouth, Aug. 30, 2015. (Photo/Stew Milne) PC Men's soccer versus Monmouth, Aug. 30, 2015. (Photo/Stew Milne)

    A 6-foot-4 American striker has Providence aiming for another College Cup, and U.S. Soccer fans on notice.

Featured video

PST Extra: Analyzing transfer deadline day